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Geauga's belt remains tight
Geauga's belt remains tight
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Geauga County will continue to be running a tight ship as it moves into next year.
That was the picture that was painted last week as Heidi Delaney, the county's budget administrator, and David Lair, county administrator, provided Geauga County Commissioners with a 2012 tax budget.
Mr. Lair explained that the budget, required to be filed by July 15, provides a planning tool for the county to use as it heads into the next year. Actual figures for the 2012 budget are not firmed up until near the end of the year.
Mr. Lair said the county has traditionally used a conservative approach in establishing a budget and this one is no different.
"We use a conservative approach so as not to see negative surprises," he said.
Mrs. Delaney said the total 2012 tax budget is $100.3 million and is composed of more than 100 different funds. The commissioners' general fund budget is $26.7 million.
Mr. Lair said although many people think the library, park district and health district are part of the county budget, they are not.
Mrs. Delaney said the county is counting on a $2 million carryover and total revenues of $23.03 million in revenues.
Mr. Lair said the majority of the revenues come from sales taxes, which make up 45 percent of revenues. He said real estate taxes comprise about 31 percent of the revenues.
Overall, Mr. Lair said, the county is seeing $2.3 million less in revenues.
Part of that loss comes from the state's cut in local government funds, which is expected to cost the county about $500,000 over previous allotments.
The county is also seeing a decrease in collections on real estate taxes of about $400,000, he said.
Mr. Lair said investments are not providing the same dollars as in the past. In the past, he said, the county could make as much as $2.1 million annually in its investments. But, the lower rates offered now have produced revenues of only about $400,000.
The conservative approach has served the county well, Mr. Lair said. During the county's boom times in the early 2000s, he said, the county did not expand, but only spent money to upgrade the county's assets. He said improving technology at the sheriff's department allowed officers to remain on the road, instead of in the office doing paperwork.
He said operating expenditures for this year are $425,000 less than the previous year.
Tightening the county's belt meant workers have not received a raise in three years, Mr. Lair said.
The county has also saved money laying off workers, such as in the coroner's office, which saved $200,000 annually. Retirements in the building department were expected to save another $50,000.
He said each department is expected to share in the sacrifices and watch expenses. He said departments are asked to spend no more than 87 percent of their appropriations.
Commissioner Tracy Jemison said that the county is essentially in the same situation it was last year.
One item that remains an unknown this time is the health care costs, Mr. Lair said. Depending on what those costs may be, he said, the county may be forced to reduce benefits or ask employees to pay more.
Commissioner William Young said asking employees to pay more would put a burden on them, given that they have not seen a raise in three years.
Over the last two years, Mr. Young said, the county has released or not filled six positions.
Mr. Lair said the county will be operating basically as it did in 2011 with no new spending.
Mr. Jemison said there are no plans to increase the county's sales tax.
"We have no plans to raise it and we are in no position to lower it," Mr. Jemison said.
He said commissioners understand what the public is going through in this economy and do not wish to tax them more at this time.
"We have to learn to live within the means we are given," he said. "We have to structure the government that fits the revenues."
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